The Management Threat – Not the Person, the Process.
“Threat. ‘A person or thing likely to cause damage or danger’ –‘ a statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury or damage or other hostile action on someone in retribution for something done or not done.”
Threat is a strong word, and when you associate it with management it can become even stronger. The mind creates lots of scenarios and almost always they are negative.
Let us be clear, there are lots of managers out there in the world, and they come in many different flavours. Some managers have been given the role simply because they are good at their current job, not because they have the potential to be a manager, let alone a good manager. The position becomes one that is earned as a reward, not through achievement and therefore is nothing more than a badge.
There are other managers who are naturally very talented at the process of developing people, and managing tasks with a clear view of people’s skills to get the job done through effective delegation. With the added extra of being able to sustain an employee’s motivation through the provision of support and great feedback, the manager is therefore labelled as effective.
Where does the ‘threat’ come in then? Saying ‘well done’ and patting people on the back is easy, often forgotten by some managers, but easy none the less. However, if an employee is not performing and the management of an individual’s performance is called into question things can become tricky. No one wants to be the ‘bad person’, but there are times when a manager has to sit down with an employee and lay things on the line. To the person being managed this can be difficult and can feel threatening, especially when certain phrases are brought into the conversation. Phrases like these for instance:
“Due to some of the mistakes you have made, it will be necessary to look a lot closer at your day to activity and make sure you are on track.”
“As you are continually failing in this area, despite help and assistance, it is now necessary to put you into a process of performance management.”
“You are not at the standard that has been expected, and therefore I no longer have confidence in your ability to do the job.”
“You need to be aware that if you continue to perform at this level, your position in this company is significantly at risk.”
Reading these phrases from an employee perspective
These are phrases you hope never to hear, no one does, but they do happen and they can feel threatening, even though that is not the intention. You may react in an emotional way, only seeing things from your own point of view and believing that perhaps you are being managed ‘toward the door’ rather than ‘away from the door’.
You may not be able to cope with the impact of what is being said, and therefore see things from a larger than life viewpoint, “I am going to lose my job? How will I manage for money? How will I get another job? How am I going to find time to look for another job? Argghhhhh” Of course, being balanced you might be very aware that you are not performing and therefore quite composed about it and thinking about moving on anyway. It happens. The threat aspect is clear here and in some circumstances people end up jumping into a ‘hamster wheel’ of behaviour, often reoffending unable to break the cycle or over compensating to try and make things right.
What is forgotten by the employee is the language that is being used by the manager, and the psychological ‘threat’ that is in play has actually been put there by the employee. Let that sink in for a minute. How? Their behaviour, output and results have not been to the required standard, and therefore the manager has to have these conversations to put the employee back on course and these conversations can come across as threatening. It is this threat of management that causes the problems and therefore one of the most useful things an employee can ask of their manager is “What is the thing I need to do in order to put this right and by when?” That way a set of objectives can be put into place and behaviour can get back on track.
Remember, you own personal actions and behaviour can make your manager perceive what you do in either a favourable or unfavourable light, therefore creating a feeling inside you. The manager is not threatening you; it is your interpretation of the process. It is worth mentioning that the opposite of the ‘management threat’ is the ‘management opportunity,’ people are happy to take these as they are the opposite, however in a funny way, you could still see it as a ‘threat’ in the same way as the corrective language could be seen as an ‘opportunity’ to improve. It is the individual’s choice.
Reading these phrases from a managerial perspective
You might be one of those managers who is reading this and quite rightly interpreting these statements as part of your job as a manager, “gotta take the rough with the smooth and it is part of my job to do it.”
Many managers are not quite so philosophical about it, especially if they are working in an organisation where they are what could be described as ‘an expert first, manager second’. In these types of organisation, some managers are awarded their role as a badge and not down to ability, and therefore struggle with the thought of having to have this type of conversation with an employee. Quite often little training is put into place to help and so the very thought of having to do this can cause stress and anxiety for the manager and can lead them to using the HR team (if one exists) to help.
Using HR can be an essential help, as it makes sure that any process is being followed, but let us be clear, it is part of the manager’s job to manage, and not abdicate this side of their job to HR every time.
Hopefully you won’t have to have these conversations very often, yet, once you have done it a once it does get easier, as you notice a process starting to form during the meeting. It goes like this.
- The reason for the meeting.
- The evidence of the behaviour
- The agreement that this behaviour is present.
- The need for the behaviour to be corrected and the outcome if it continues.
- The agreement from the employee that they need to correct their behaviour.
- The objectives needed for the employee to succeed.
- An agreement that the employee has the time, skills and resources to enable that success and a review date in place.
- All of the above confirmed in writing to the employee.
By following this simple process, where you are looking for a series of “yes” answers, you can plan and effectively lead a meeting of this nature, reducing the ‘threat’ that you feel as a delivery mechanism of the process, which is what you are. In turn the employee you are managing will feel less ‘threatened’ although lets not sugar coat this, a meeting like this can be unpleasant for both parties, so the process can help navigate you through.
A final point to help is that the feeling of threat is just that, a feeling or emotion. When meetings where performance is called into question, emotions can run high, tempers can fray, and very quickly situations can get out of hand. Therefore a process like this, helps to keep things clear and precise, and with a little planning and preparation can run very smoothly. The result being that your employee is back on track and as a manager you would have passed a milestone in your development.
Moving From ‘Threat’ to ‘Opportunity’…
So to conclude, that feeling of ‘threat’ that can come about, due to either being performance managed, or having to carry out a meeting with someone about his or her performance, should be viewed a ‘task’ driven part of an employees or manager’s job. Therefore it is not personal, although if handled badly can make the recipient certainly feel that it is, and in some cases the affect it can have on a manager who has not been trained to carry it out can also have very personal ‘threat’ feelings. (Especially if the manager’s manager is present too, compound ‘threat’!) The result of the this latter point is that the manager becomes very fluffy and woolly in their communication, trying to be nice and using excessive ‘sorry’ based statements to compensate.
If this situation is seen as a remedy to something, a behaviour or poor performance, rather than something negative, it can change the way people approach the situation. This shift in perception and resulting behaviour can move all involved towards an opportunity to achieve a more productive outcome, with enhanced and improved relationships, engagement and motivation.